New app monitors your mental health with smartphone data
It doesn’t replace professional help but it provides valuable insights
Everyone could use a mental health check in once in a while. Researchers from Dalhousie University in Canada hope that your smartphone can soon help do that job. They are developing an app that tracks your mobile usage habits to monitor your mental health.
Still, the whole idea sort of sounds like an episode of “Black Mirror”-good intentions or not.
How Does it Work?
The idea of gauging a person’s mental health based on how they use their phone is mind-boggling (no pun intended). However, that’s exactly what PROSIT researchers promise their app can do. They have a team of computer scientists, psychologists, and expert developers working on it.
To accomplish its mission of tracking a user’s mental health, the app first needs to gather a ton of data. This includes information from 15 different categories. It does so using the sensors that already exist in a user’s phone. It’s a perfect example of creating a new application for the technology we already have.
The PROSIT app collects information on things like how much sleep a user gets, how often they workout, their call history and messaging logs (not message content), screen time, and music preferences.
Researchers even say that the way a person types can reveal a lot about their mental health. Rita Orji, a computer scientist on the development team, says, “When people are emotional, when you’re angry, you want to send an emotional text. Not only the speed of your typing changes, but also the force you apply on the keyboard to type also changes.”
Along with this passive data, the app also asks users to participate directly. Every week, they are asked to submit a 90-second audio recording that details the most exciting part of their week. Periodically, users are also asked to rate their emotions on a scale of one to five.
Dr. Sandra Meier, a psychologist with the IWK Health Center and Dalhousie University says, “We can actually find out whether they’re anxious or depressed. It’s fairly amazing.”
Obviously, an app that collects this much data is going to come with some automatic privacy concerns. The research team behind PROSIT knows this.
They say that they have focused on security and privacy from the earliest stages of development. “Our app took user privacy, security, and safety into consideration as the major design objective…from the very beginning of the app design,” says Orji.
Prior to downloading the app, all users are asked to sign a consent form. Then, any data that PROSIT collects is encrypted and stored in a secure location at the IWK Health Center.
Fortunately, it seems that the team has better intentions for collecting the data than tech companies like Google who just want it for ad targeting purposes.
While the PROSIT app isn’t able to predict mental health crises before they happen, it could be a valuable adjuvant treatment tool. With telemedicine on the rise thanks to COVID-19, it may grow in popularity faster than expected.
Originally published at https://www.theburnin.com on July 19, 2020.